Bill of Rights Forum meets

The Bill of Rights Forum held its inaugural meeting today but the body charged with giving the project some fresh impetus seems to be the same old gather-ups. The Forum is made up of 14 politicians, 14 representatives from wider civic society and an independent chair. However, not all the civic society representatives have been confirmed and the independent chair will not be appointed until early next year (David Hanson chaired this morning’s meeting). It has been given the target date of producing its report by the end of 2007. Consultation paper and government response here.It appears that the 14 civic society representatives will hold no surprises as government propose to divide the positions up in the following manner:

Trade unions 2 places
Employers 2 places
Churches 2 places
Human rights NGO sector 1 place
Community / voluntary sector 7 places

The 7 community and voluntary sector representatives are to be selected on the following basis – children and young people, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, older people, people of different sexual orientations, women and the community / voluntary sector as a whole.

The Human Rights NGO sector position has been given to the Committee for the Administration of Justice. There seems to be some dispute over the most appropriate way to select the Protestant church representative and the Unionist parties are concerned about the exclusion of the Loyal Orders.

  • Alan

    “seems to be the same old gather-ups”


    “not all the civic society representatives have been confirmed and the independent chair will not be appointed until early next year ”

    A classic example of the prejudicial, surely?

  • Nestor Makhno

    ‘It appears that the 14 civic society representatives will hold no surprises’

    Well, no surprise because these groups would be the sensible choice in any community.

    In today’s atomised society it’s pperhaps more difficult to represent everyone than it was, say, even in the 1970s. But this is a fair attempt – boringly obvious – but no worse for it.

  • fair_deal


    “A classic example of the prejudicial, surely?”

    The decision to categorise the Community/voluntary reps signifantly reduces flexibility. NI is a small place so when you put a sector definition there is a small number of represenative/regional groups for each of these sectors.

    So far appointed are CAJ from the HR sector, age Concern appointed for Older people and Disability Action for disabled people, 2 ICTU reps. Excuse me as I pick myself off the ground in amazement.

    Here are my predictions for the outstanding positions:
    Children and Young People – either Save the Children or the Youth Council
    Ethnic – NICEM (outside chance of the Multi-Cultural Resource Centre)
    Women – WRDA or WSN
    Community sector as a whole – NICVA

    There is also the question of why some sub-sections of section 75 groups get preference for representation.

  • Garibaldy


    what bodies would you rather see be represented?

  • Animus

    Actually, Age Concern are sharing a seat with Help the Aged. The Children and Young People’s sector are represented jointly by the Children’s Law Centre and Save the Children and NICVA have not taken up a position at all yet.

    One could argue that the politicians represented are no great surprise either. Most of the people representing the NGO sector have experience of working on human rights. One couldn’t necessarily argue the same for the politicians.

    Any small group will come under scrutiny – it’s hard to get everyone in the room. I am aware that the civil society organisations are willing to do outreach; I’m not so sure about the committment of all of the parties.

  • fair_deal


    “what bodies would you rather see be represented?”

    I wouldn’t do it this way, producing a restrictive list of issue groups then self-selecting groups to fit those categories. I believe the Bill of Rights Forum should be recruited in the same manner as the public bodies.

    This has the potential to be an interesting and worthwhile exercise and generate a decent public debate around the strengths and limitations of the human rights agenda.

    However, the manic rush the process is following being done simply to please the Shinners is a waste. They don’t seem to realise it is demeaning the value of the entire exercise.


    Got the Save the Children one right then. Doesn’t Paddy Kelly, former NIHRC commissioner, still head up the Children’s Law Centre?

  • Animus

    Yes – although Paddy isn’t the rep as far as I am aware. Since she served on the Human Rights Commission, it might be a conflict of interest for her to sit on the Forum.

    I also agree that the process is being carried out with almost indecent haste. However, after 6 years of waiting, it could be a very positive development.

  • Garibaldy


    Fair enough. I agree that the whole Bill of Rights thing has been totally, and most likely deliberately, mishandled, so as to neutralise the potential of a genuine culture of human rights to interfere with our sectarian status quo.

    I would disagree on the rushed argument but. This is something we should have had decades ago, and certainly shortly after the GFA.

    As for pleasing the Provos, I’d say that the way this has been selected has been to minimise the input of any political party, and that this has been one of the reasons for selecting the interest groups. Although I do agree that the notion of interest groups relative to human rights is silly. We are all citizens, and we all have rights as citizens – not as men or women, blacks or whites, gays or straights, nationalists or unionists or others. The most fundamental danger to a useful Bill of Human Rights comes from the idea of entrenching group rights in it.

  • slug

    NI’s ethnic make up is changing rapidly enough that the old idea of group rights based on “esteem parity for the two communities” is totally outdated. The notion that NI consists of just two communities was a stretch in 1998, it is untenable now.

  • Gonzo

    I concur with Garibaldy. By entrenching ‘group’ instead of ‘individual’ rights, we are merely setting ourselves up for a system of competing rights.

    In such cases, it will be left to the courts to decide on whose rights are respected, which is pretty much the opposite of what a bill of rights (‘for all, equally’) was supposed to do.

    But will we ever learn? Will we ****.

  • Garibaldy


    I’d say we need a supreme court to ensure that the Bill of Rights is respected. I don’t trust the normal court system to do this. If we are serious about creating a culture of rights, we must ensure that each citizen can enforce their rights. But I suspect you’re right – we’ll never learn. Or to be more precise, the British government that legislates for this will go for the easy option. At least in the 1970s they had the courage to legislate for what was right with fair employment etc. Utter cowards.

  • topdeckomnibus

    I will not donate to any charity represented.

    A Bill of Rights for a part of the whole .. is actually a Bill of Privileges.